Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Pretenses, False Pretenses and Spiritual Prudence

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 12, 2009

When we review web sites, we rate them for their fidelity, resources, and usability. The fidelity rating, as you can imagine, is the most controversial—and the most important. Let’s consider what constitutes “fidelity” in the rating system before examining a new problem of spiritual prudence which we recently faced in our evaluation process.

For us, fidelity means fidelity to the “mind of the Church” and it consists of four elements:

  1. Orthodoxy: This means fidelity to the Church as teacher, or obedience to her Magisterium. It is the sine qua non of all the other elements.
  2. Obedience: This refers to fidelity to the Church as ruler, her authority over such things as the liturgy, the sacraments, devotional practices, priestly ministry, religious orders, and Church governance.
  3. Prudence: We think of this as fidelity to the Church as sanctifier. A web site will be downgraded if it handles some aspect of Catholic faith and life without the care and spiritual wisdom demanded by a true son or daughter of the Church, as exemplified by the consistent advice of proper authority over time, the example of the saints, and Catholic tradition.
  4. Fortitude: Here we are evaluating fidelity to the Church’s prophetic mission. It is insufficient for a Catholic web site to concern itself exclusively with such aspects of Catholic faith and life which are popular in the larger secular society while ignoring or underplaying those aspects which the larger culture rejects.

As I indicated above, the third item—prudence—deserves special mention just now. Most often we encounter a lack of prudence in our reviews when we deal with alleged apparitions which are being promoted before they have been investigated by the competent authority, or in spite of a negative decision, or without making clear the tentative nature of such claims. Faithful sons and daughters of the Church do not proceed in this way because of the danger of misleading souls, offering supposed nourishment from dubious spiritual sources that should be sought from the Church herself, and creating inordinate attachments to perceived spiritual experiences which can lead to a variety of errors.

Recently, however, we’ve encountered another serious violation of prudence in evaluating several web sites which claim either to be associated with an “Order” that lacks any formal ecclesiastical standing or which claim to provide deliverance from demons without proper ecclesiastical oversight, or both. In addition, the founder of this “Order” is a recently-convicted sex offender. Now I want to assure you that I am fully aware that the world is full of repentant sinners (ourselves included) who attempt to do good work for the Church. Moreover, any of us may live like a traditional hermit if we so choose, or even dress in traditional religious garb. And certainly we are all entitled to form associations among our fellow-Catholics to pursue spiritual aims.

So where is there a problem with prudence? Well, even if no deliberate deception is involved (which may be questionable), prudence demands that we not publicly advertise ourselves as members of an Order for the purpose of providing some apparently Catholic spiritual ministry without having sought both the scrutiny and the approval of the competent spiritual authority (usually the local bishop). Spiritual prudence further demands that we not set ourselves up as if we have some institutional Catholic status to assist people spiritually in an area closely related to our own publicly-known weaknesses, for this can only expose the Church to ridicule and ourselves to spiritual danger.

And just as we will not want to do these things if we are true and humble sons or daughters of the Church, we cannot do them and expect a good Fidelity rating from Of course it is only spiritually prudent for me to emphasize that our judgments do not purport to be official ecclesiastical judgments, nor are they infallible. While it is true that if our local bishop were to ask us to stop offering these ratings they would be gone tomorrow, this fact does not imply either his knowledge or his approval. They are simply ratings of how the external evidence associated with a web site appears to us to stack up against the commonly-accepted canons of sound Catholic judgment. Users should value these ratings only to the degree that their own experience suggests we at do a good job of applying the mind of the Church to such questions.

But here is the point. For whatever it is worth, we don't care who you are, who you claim to be, how many people you have writing to us, or how great your reputation is for holiness. The sort of behavior I’ve just outlined will always—repeat, always—result in a RED (danger) rating from

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jul. 15, 2018 8:51 AM ET USA

    jbaumberg4257: It seems to me that Augustine has it exactly right, which is why I wrote in a previous comment that, in cases of rape, "perhaps even some exceptions could be made". There is no question that someone whose loss of virginity has come about only through rape remains undefiled in God's sight; no sin can attach to this. A consecrated virgin who is raped has not in any way been unfaithful to her vocation. Someone who has been raped who wants to become a consecrated virgin could certainly make the consecration with a clear conscience. Whether such an exception should be made, however, would depend on a prudential consideration of several factors, two of which easily come to mind: (1) Sometimes admittance to a desired vocation is denied based on various kinds of impediments which have nothing to do with sin or fault, much as a man cannot be ordained a priest unless he has the use of his hands. One must consider the impact on the vocation as a whole, for the person seeking admittance to it, for all those who have already embraced it, and for its own internal logic; (2) Sometimes something in one's past could cause a person not to be accepted in a particular vocational choice. Here one must consider whether someone who has been raped is likely to be able to make a truly free choice of virginity from the right motives--or is the choice induced by trauma or some resulting psychological distortion? None of these are light questions, but there can be no question that rape does not defile a woman in God's eyes, regardless of what sinful men have done to her body.

  • Posted by: Jbaumberg4257 - Jul. 14, 2018 1:41 PM ET USA

    How do you handle St. Augustine's rejoinder to the rape of the consecrated virgins in the sack of Rome in 410 AD? (City of God, bk 1): "If women were violated, they are still pure because they did not consent and their morals were unsullied. Purity is a property of the mind, and unwelcome acts upon our bodies do not defile them. Those who were violated are still chaste, and God will use this circumstance to help them grow in virtue." (Steve West) This may be the Vatican's thinking.

  • Posted by: LCRich - Jul. 14, 2018 11:56 AM ET USA

    In my opinion, virginity is “physical virginity.” We must not overlook the fact that anyone, regardless of their past sexual behaviors, is able to practice chastity and offer their life of chastity to God. Chastity is a very strong virtue to build our Faith and deepen the love of God within our soul.

  • Posted by: fatdogs8245 - Jul. 14, 2018 11:02 AM ET USA

    Dr. Mirus, The question of a young woman who has been raped also came to mind as a possible intended exception, and while I agree with one commentator that hard cases make bad law, it seems what is first required before making exceptions is a clear definition of what it means to be a virgin. What part does the will (intention) have in determining this state or is it purely a physical description? A deeper understanding of Mary's perpetual virginity would lead us here.

  • Posted by: billG - Jul. 13, 2018 10:20 PM ET USA

    Is there a connection between a "consecrated virgin" who is not a virgin, and a "marriage" between two of the same sex? Western 'civilization' is destroying the meaning of words in order to accommodate the times. Does the Church have to lead the way?

  • Posted by: john.n.akiko7522 - Jul. 13, 2018 9:25 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately the foxes seem to be running the hen house

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jul. 13, 2018 8:58 PM ET USA

    goredawg: We can recognize the unique situation presented by a woman who has been raped, and perhaps even some exception could be made, but here the adage applies that hard cases make bad law. We would not want to lose the meaning of virginity in the name of what we might call a more therapeutic culture. Clearly, no woman who has been raped should be made to feel diminished in any way; love and support are essential. But this cannot translate into a breaking of the real connection between physical virginity and what it means to be a consecrated virgin. Apart from hard cases involving coercion, what we "do with our bodies" matters enormously to our interior life and spiritual commitments. Here, again, we are dealing with one unique vocation, which ought not to be destroyed in its essence.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jul. 13, 2018 7:41 PM ET USA

    Weaponzied ambiguity.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jul. 13, 2018 3:56 PM ET USA

    One has a right to his own opinion, but not to his own facts. Feelings and opinions are not facts and wishful thinking will not make them so, even if you are transgender, or reside in the Vatican.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Jul. 13, 2018 11:40 AM ET USA

    The whole emphasis on physical virginity I find somewhat disturbing, because it reminds me of these more "traditional" cultures where if a women is raped, she is seen as ruined goods. I know that the physical virginity of the Holy Virgin Mary is a key doctrine of our church, but making it such a big deal for the rest of us might cause a woman to fall into despair because she can never get her virginity back. I've seen it happen.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 13, 2018 1:50 AM ET USA

    This inversion of standards, not just lowering them, could be a prelude to something much more offensive. It's unclear what motivated these particular changes: was it shortage of consecrated virgins, or pressing desires of non-virginal candidates for consecrations? I'm afraid it's neither.